When I interviewed “House of Cards” creator Beau Willimon for a story about the second season, he refused to give anything away. So frustrating! But one thing he did spill is that if you were a fan of Claire Underwood in Season 1, then you would be especially pleased with Season 2.
Mr. Willimon, you are a master of understatement. After watching Episode 4? Award show trophy engravers may as well get some work done ahead of time because Robin Wright pretty much sealed the deal for an Emmy, a Golden Globe, SAG award, and honestly maybe even an Oscar. Wright knocked this episode so far out of the park that even Kevin Spacey, one of history’s great scenery chewers, looked out of his league.
Read previous recaps
As we learned in Episode 2, Claire Underwood’s tragic past came hurtling into the present when she saw the man who raped her during college. Not only did she have to see Dalton McGinnis, now a general in the Marines, but she had to witness her husband pin a medal on him during a gala in his honor. Frank was silently furious, but Claire insisted that he not make a scene.
Well, that all flew out the window. After 30 years, Claire outed McGinnis as a rapist – during a live, nationally televised CNN interview. Initially, the TV appearance was supposed to be a low-key, joint interview with Frank to prove that the vice president and his wife have a wonderful marriage, but one that will stay out of the press. And that’s the exact opposite of what happened.
First, Frank never makes it to the interview because of an anthrax scare and subsequent quarantine at the Capitol (more on that later). Claire reluctantly agrees to do the interview solo, and her newly-hired press rep, Connor, helps her rehearse an answer for when the reporter (CNN’s Ashleigh Banfield, playing herself) inevitably ask why the Underwoods never had children. Claire has it down cold: She and Frank wanted to devote their lives to public service, and they didn’t think they could do both. No problem.
What starts out with softballs about Claire’s happy childhood in Texas quickly turns a lot more serious when Banfield grills Claire about her “calculating” marriage. They’re the kind of prying questions that blunt friend will ask after you’ve both had a few too many drinks. For example: Did Frank marry you just because he needed your family’s money for his campaign? Is her marriage a sham and just for political gain? What’s it really like being a politician’s wife? (Claire: “It’s thrilling.”)
Wright’s performance as the gut-punching questions continue is a sight to see: The icy look in her eyes as she masterfully and eloquently answers the questions while simultaneously dancing around the reality. And at the same time, you can see the smallest hint of pain as she internalizes the kernels of truth in each query.
But the most brutal moment comes when Banfield asks the question about children. Ready for it, Claire gives her canned line about her and Frank devoting their lives to public service. Banfield fires back: Come on, Claire, you’ve given that exact same scripted response in every interview. Let’s get real. Claire skillfully dodges. Banfield fires away: Do you just not have any maternal instinct? Is it because you can’t have kids? And hey, look, here’s an article where an opponent claimed you were pregnant during the campaign. Have you ever been pregnant?
Something snaps, because Claire’s expression somehow gets even steelier. “Yes,” she suddenly says. She has been pregnant. Connor the press rep is horrified and wants the CNN producer to stop the interview. The CNN producer, who knows a viral sensation when she says one, says “No way.”
Banfield isn’t done. Was it a miscarriage? No. Did you terminate the pregnancy? Long, long pause. Claire looks her in the eye. “If I said yes, my husband’s career would be in jeopardy. My faith would be questioned, my life would be threatened. But I won’t feel ashamed. Yes, I was pregnant and yes, I had an abortion.”
Banfield is stunned. Connor looks like he wants to hurl himself out the nearest window. Claire asks for a short break and then confesses to Connor that she’s actually had three abortions – two when she was a teenager, and then, as the aforementioned article stated, one during the campaign because a baby could have derailed Frank’s political career. Connor insists she bail on the interview immediately, but Claire isn’t going back now.
That’s because she’s headed back on camera to confirm that yes, she had an abortion – but it’s because she was raped in college by a man named Dalton McGinnis. And as a matter of fact, she was forced to face him a few weeks ago when he got a medal for his service in the Marines. Of course, this entirely shifts the focus of the interview. Claire asks for another break, and just as she is starting to grasp the full weight of what happened, the producer says there’s a young woman (a private in the Marines) on the phone – she just called into the show and said McGinnis sexually assaulted her, too.
As we see Claire comfort the young woman on the phone, and talk on the air about finally hoping for justice all these years, it’s a breathtaking, riveting scene. Then, cut to: McGinnis is sitting in his office, looking shell-shocked, when an assistant comes in to give him some news: His wife is on the phone.
When Frank arrives home, the look on his face shows a mix of emotions, but mostly, the utmost pride for Claire a) going public with her devastating story, and b) by confessing about her abortion and lying about the circumstances, she took control of their story and kept his career intact. It’s a strange, intense moment that fully encapsulates the strange, intense Underwood marriage.
Frank has already had quite a day, as one unfortunate Capitol intern on mail-opening duty tore open a regular-looking package only to be covered with white dust. It turns out to be flour mixed with talcum powder but the Capitol police and Secret Service shut the whole place down under quarantine for hours. That’s especially unfortunate for Frank, who has a crucial vote about entitlement benefits happening in just a few hours. The upside? He’s locked in quarantine with Donald Blythe, whom he desperately needs to convince to vote for the benefits amendment. Unfortunately, Blythe is the guy from last season who lost big time when Frank manipulated the education bill away from him in a power play.
Blythe hasn’t forgotten, and understandably, isn’t a Frank Underwood fan. But Frank still needs quite a few votes from the Democrats in the House, and Blythe controls about 28 of them. Blythe tells Frank he’s wasting his time, but that’s before they get trapped in the same room for hours and become drinking buddies. Blythe bonds with Frank about his wife, who is suffering from Alzheimer’s. Then they both see Claire’s performance on CNN. Turns out, hours of drinking and experiencing life-changing circumstances is enough to thaw the ice. Frank pledges to allocate funds to Alzheimer’s research, and (with some prodding from Rep. Jackie Sharp), Blythe is able to deliver the votes. Check out Mr. Frank Underwood, making an anthrax scare work in his favor.
Oh yes, Jackie, who is really making her name for herself as new majority whip. She isn’t pleased when Frank asks her to team up with Remy Danton (the lobbyist from last season who used to work with Frank) to collect the last few votes for the entitlement reform. She claims Remy can’t help and is late to the party; Frank, who somehow grew a sense of humor, tells her to think of Remy as “as the guy who shows up with a six pack after the liquor store’s closed.” Sure enough, Jackie and Remy make up a dream team, in that she completely ignores his advice to trade favors for the votes, and shames members of Congress into voting her way with crackling wit and vague threats.
In re: threats, things aren’t looking good for our favorite “deep web” enthusiast Lucas, in totally over his head visiting the lair of infamous hacker Gavin Orsay. Gavin is still sitting there in his hacker cave, ominously petting his guinea pig Cashew, and coldly telling Lucas that the only way to get Zoe’s phone records is to break into data center headquarters and hack into their system. Lucas gets nervous, especially when Gavin refuses to let him go back to the Herald newsroom and help cover the Capitol quarantine stories. (And here’s hoping that when Lucas was on the phone assigning someone a “history of bio-hazard scares” story, he actually meant a “16 Times the U.S. Capitol was Evacuated for No Reason” list, complete with GIFs.)
Poor Lucas is skipping work and losing sleep for no reason: Later, we see Gavin get in a car with a shadowy figure who confirms that Gavin is helping them (who is them?) lure Lucas into a trap. When Gavin says he can’t figure out why the guy is going after Lucas, who clearly has no idea how to be a hacker, the shadowy figure claims that Lucas is planning a cyber-terrorist move. Stay safe, Lucas – you need to bolt now. And please, take Cashew with you — we’re worried about him.
Three Things to Say in Conversation to Make It Seem Like You Watched This Episode
Ashleigh Banfield really held her own against Claire Underwood.
Was it Claire’s plan all along to blame McGinnis for her pregnancy?
Seriously, is Cashew going to be okay?